This section assumes that you have talked yourself into baring all for the sake of art. What's next? It was originally written from the male perspective on the nudist website, but applies to both sexes.
In the months since I have been seriously investigating the prospect of retesting the waters of life modeling after a 40-plus-year absence, I have been surfing through thousands of threads in the Figures forum of Wet Canvas and this 37-page thread at ConceptArt. Based on a shipload of posted drawings from the members, I've come to the conclusion that not all models are "hot". Many are real people with imperfect bodies and a full range of age, stature, body shape, etc.
There is thus no good reason to say, "No way! I'm not good enough." If you're alive, if your body is interesting, and if you can hold still, you are most certainly good enough. As a famous radio personality said, "The only limits on people are those that they impose on themselves." Kick down that self-imposed barrier and go for the gusto.
The thought of being nude in front of a group of strangers — at least the first time one poses for them — should be at most a minor concern that will rapidly dissipate when one realizes that when the artists are working, the models are objects to be drawn.
Life modeling isn't the proverbial "rocket science". There are no hours-long training courses, no diplomas, no degrees. For the vast majority of life models, it's an avocation, not a career. It's part-time work to pick up a few extra bucks. And how many other jobs give you the opportunity to be paid for being nude?
• The two ubiquitously expressed prerequisites for life modeling: "Show up and hold still." There are few figure modeling pages or sites that don't stress those two points.
• By "show up", we mean be on time for the session, "on time" meaning on the dais ready to go at the appointed hour. Being late once is excusable. Chronic tardiness bespeaks disinterest and it creates a very bad impression. It will most likely lead to hiring other models.
• Models who more than once miss a session without the decency to notify the class or group and leave them in the lurch don't get booked again. If the absence is sudden and unavoidable, contact the instructor or moderator as soon at the opportunity comes. A car breakdown in a cell phone dead spot, or an abduction by Zeta Reticulan greys for unspeakable experiments, will be acceptable in most cases.
• Even if you are not booked for the day, be prepared to accept a request from a class or group whose scheduled model is unavailable for whatever reason. If you are willing to be on call, it will make a very favorable impression on the instructors and artists who book models.
• What does "hold still" actually mean? Is the model expected to remain absolutely motionless for the duration of the pose? Ideally, yes, that's what it means. However, life models are not androids. They have human bodies, and their bodies are not designed to be utterly rigid. Thus holding still is basically a compromise. The major factors are the nature and the complexity of the pose, and how much muscle activity is involved in maintaining it.
A reclining pose is by definition the least strenuous ergo the easiest to hold. Typically, the body is fully supported by the dais or floor, and gravity does the work. There are of course variations of reclining poses that can be very taxing on the model's endurance, e.g., poses that involve arms or legs raised off of the surface without support. Lie on the floor and hold your arms straight up for 20 minutes to appreciate that point.
Seated or semi-reclining poses are the next easiest to maintain if there is adequate support for the limbs and the torso. However, because the body is not horizontal, the primary weight-bearing surface is one's buns. Be sure that the seating surface is fairly even and smooth (no wrinkles or ridges in the covering or fabric to leave tracks on the cheeks), and tolerably soft padding would be a plus. If the seat has a back and arms, so much the better, although it's not compatible with posing in the round.
Standing poses are the second most stressful to the body, particularly if there is no external support such as a pole, rail or other rigid object or surface. Not only is the body's weight sustained entirely by the legs, but there is the matter of equilibrium. Standing for extended periods is uncomfortable enough, but standing still and staying upright require constant muscle activity that can become painful if not agonizing. Best advice: avoid long standing poses without external supports.
Then there are the kneeling poses, with the potential to become veritable fountainheads of aches and pains. For gestures or short poses (10 minutes or less), kneeling can be very effective. However, as the poses get longer, holding still grows more challenging. And depending on how the rest of the body is arranged, they can quickly devolve into torture. Kneeling poses are NOT meant for long poses, period.
• Two final points on holding still:
• From the Modeling For Life Drawing website...
Note the comment in parentheses. It is quite logical given that a moment later the model will be standing nude in front of the people that are watching him enter the room. Notions of modesty should be left at the door. IAC, tying it means wasting time untying it. Dropping the robe should be a smooth, effortless motion that does not require undoing belts or strings.
Re the robe, a lightweight, knee-length robe is preferable to those wraparound winter robes that would be good for an evening stroll in the Antarctic. It falls gracefully, doesn't land with a thump, and can be pushed aside with a gentle move of the foot.
• Bring a refeshment in case the session doesn't provide anything. A thermos of cold water or a can or two of soda wrapped in an insulating towel could be like an oasis in the Sahara during the summer months. Also consider a light snack, preferably one that provides a quick energy boost. As noted above, modeling is hard work.
• Personal hygiene is paramount. Bathe before going to the job. When the doors are locked during the session, there is often no circulation. Being fresh and clean can make a big difference. Also find the rest room and eliminate possible distractions. And do a quick once-over before heading to the dais. As some sites say, nothing is so unsettling as a piece of T-paper stuck to a model's aft cheek.
• As a tangent to the hygiene matter, the question of body hair on male models occasionally arises when prospective models are researching the various issues. There is no hard and fast rule on it. It's largely a matter of the model's preference. The trend these days is toward "manscaping", where the hair is trimmed or even shaved. That includes the patch down there. It is increasingly common for men, particularly young, athletic guys, to do a full body shave.
Posted drawings and photos of male life models evince a wide range of body grooming styles. In any case, the amount of body hair is unlikely to be a factor in a drawing session, unless the model drops the robe and they discover that they've hired a yeti.
• Bring your own towels or linens. It's a fairly safe assumption that the furnishings are not kept clean and sterile. Consider how many nude bodies have been on those things before you. It's the only incentive necessary for using that isolating layer of cloth. As well, the linens add "drapery" to the setting, which many students and artists enjoy drawing or painting. However, avoid distracting patterns on the fabric. You don't want what you're sitting or reclining on to draw attention away from your magnificent body.
Also have available in the car a pillow or cushion to use for reclining poses if one is not provided. Long poses on hard surfaces are uncomfortable, and any way that can reduce the discomfort is a must.
A good way to address the hard-surface issue is to keep an exercise mat in the car for sessions where the model is on the floor or a hard platform. Look for one that has thick(ish) foam for padding, and is large enough for "busy" reclining poses. A 6-foot square mat (e.g., a yoga mat) is great for on-the-floor poses, because it allows for changes in direction without hanging off the edges or turning the mat to the new orientation. If the session uses a dais, it determines the practical size of the mat, since one that is larger than the dais will be hanging uselessly over the edges.
The thicker the padding, the better it is for kneeling poses and for those where the hands or elbows are supporting the lifted torso. The mat is also a thermal insulator to separate the body from cold surfaces such as the platform or the floor. It can be used as is, but probably should be covered with drapery to isolate the skin from the plastic surface, and to give the artists something interesting to add to their drawings.
• Don't wear tight-fitting clothing for a couple of hours before the sitting. E.g., the elastic waistband of briefs or pants can leave a quite visible impression on the skin. Going commando, using suspenders for one's pants and wearing loose socks completely avoids textile tracks on the skin. This is particularly important if you're doing a photo shoot, because if there's a track, the camera WILL see it and record it. When sitting for a drawing session, it's less important, but avoiding it is another indication of professionalism.
• Bring simple props if the class or studio doesn't provide them (uncommon, but have them in the car, just in case). A 4- to 6-foot pole can be invaluable for action poses, as well as serving as a support for standing poses, poses that might be a bit off-balance, arms-extended poses, etc. Rubber chair-leg caps on both ends minimize slipping on the dais or floor, and cushion the hand on the other end. Many models bring ropes or light chains that allow creating tension that enhances musculature (even old guys like to flex the pecs or do Charles Atlas poses — if you understand that reference, there is probably snow on your roof ).
• Play to the lighting. More often than not, there is one lighting fixture on a tripod stand illuminating the dais. Try to avoid directly facing the light, which will wash out your contours and minimize the shadows that artists rely upon to give weight and substance to the model. The lower the light is, the more this blanking effect will prevail. Look at the average photo that was taken using the camera's flash to see it in all of its blandness.
Orient yourself so that the light is at an angle to your frontal plane. This gives your body the light-and-shadow patterns that make for good drawings. As for the artists working directly behind the light, nothing the model can do will help very much to make their view more interesting.
A Triad of Manly Matters
The next three bullet items are directed to the males of the life drawing model ranks. Our dear ladies may find it interesting to read about what we lads have to consider when mounting the dais.
• One site suggested that for male models, it's a good idea to have a jock strap in the bag. As strange as it might seem in the 21st century, there are apparently some life drawing venues where the students or artists simply MUST be shielded from the shocking and distressing sight of male genitalia. If the guys reading this choose to invest in one, get the smallest one you can find that conceals that "offensive" organ. The standard sports strap is overkill and frankly ugly. Straps made for swimmers have narrow waistbands and just enough cloth to cover the essentials, and they are available in various colors.
I have no connection with this company, but their product line is good for posing for the straitlaced folks.
One of the fine gentlemen of the dais emailed me with this information:
Here's the website of the vendor: Joe Snyder G-String
My personal opinion on this issue is that by demanding that a man's pubic appurtenances be concealed, there will be increased, unwholesome attention paid to them. In this situation, jockstraps are like thongs. They have in common that they serve as focal points for the eye and the mind. They give free rein to the imagination to dwell on what's behind the curtain. Like Victoria's Secret nighties, they are far more erotic than simple nudity.
There are classes and groups that hire only draped models, and there are several completely valid reasons why such a rule would be imposed. But what can be the rationale when they want a male model who is nude except for his manly bits? My question is not what would be acceptable to such classes and groups. Rather, it is why a life model would want sittings with them.
One can envision the drawing group's folks on a seaside outing.
• Because you will be totally nude (well, except when posing for the bathers above), every part of your body will be visible. So how does a fellow deal with the presence and the positioning of the equipment? The best advice is to ignore them when posing. Let gravity do its thing when assuming a pose. Neither conceal nor emphasize them, and make an adjustment only if their configuration is uncomfortable.
• As noted on page 2 under "The Star of The Show", the human body's response is unpredictable in some settings. It is possible, although unlikely, that there may be a momentary tumescence. With new models, particularly young ones, understanding artists will chalk it up to inexperience. Uptight groups or classes that have zero tolerance for, if not open hostility toward, an inadvertent, unintended physical condition should be avoided by the models. There is no room for Victorian priggishness in serious art.
On the other hand, if the situation "arises" repeatedly, or if the model jumps up on the nearest table, brandishes it like HeMan's sword and shouts, "I have the power!" it will not be a career enhancer.
• Change the direction you are facing, particulary in gestures and short poses, to give artists in all directions the opportunity to see all sides of you.
• If the studio is "in the round", with you in the middle on a dais...
... there will most likely be people who will be facing your buns no matter which way you turn. Avoid squatting or kneeling poses that spread the aft cheeks unduly.
• Although some drawing group sites indicate that their models can talk during poses, the general rule is to be silent unless the instructor specifically asks a question. Class etiquette requires that only the instructor can talk to the model. Students cannot. As well, only the instructor can touch the model, and then only with permission, to point out lighting or shadow, a particular contour, et al. Good instructors will use a laser pointer to avoid any contact. Students never touch him, period.
• Don't make sustained eye contact with any of the artists. This is particularly applicable if they are students. You are posing nude in front of them, but they may never have seen a nude model before that day, and they might be quite uncomfortable. Eye contact could be unnerving or intimidating. IAC, it's easier to maintain head position by finding something on the wall or ceiling to look at and fixing one's gaze on it.
• Wear a robe and footwear when not on the dais. Barefoot is acceptable, but studio or art classroom floors can be filthy if not dangerous — stray pushpins, Exacto blades, etc. Wandering around the studio or classroom nude is typically discouraged, particularly in an academic setting. Open studios tend to be less formal.
The prohibition is silly on its face, of course. The model has been posing nude in front of the artists and they have been staring at every square inch of his body. Yet there is supposedly something wrong with those same people enjoying a break from the session without a pretense of modesty and decorum.
When "the nude" under the lights becomes the "naked man" as soon as he steps off the platform, he is deemed less than a human being and becomes an object in life as well as in art. It lends weight to the arguments by critics that nude figure art is indecent or smutty.
This viewpoint was stated by a professional life model.
Addendum 20150822: this site is no longer active. The article is in my files. If someone wants to read it, let me know via the email link.
• Be professional, but don't assume that you will be treated professionally.
Because people are all capable of being jerks, it is inevitable that some artists can be jerks. They fail to grasp that they might be the ones creating the art, but without the models they have no subject. Mutual respect between the artist and the model makes everything easier and more enjoyable. Artists who can't grasp that should be put on a model's "Do Not Book!" list.
To the artists, group leaders and instructors who hire models: if you want to guarantee the failure of your life drawing sessions or classes, one certain way is to treat your models like dirt, or allow those in your groups or classes to do it. The word will spread quickly and you'll wind up with empty daises. No model should have to tolerate unkindness or abuse, and few if any of them will.
• The last point on professionalism: one sure way to build a wall between the model and the artist(s) is to give the impression of being restless or bored. A life session is a cooperative venture that relies on an intimate working relationship between the parties. If the model is amateurish — as opposed to being an amateur, ergo not a professional — the artists are not inspired. It then becomes a matter of struggling to make the proverbial silk purse out of the sow's ear. The model is very unlikely to be booked again unless the group is desperate, nor will he be recommended to other groups.
An interested, interesting, involved model is a blessing to the artists. Be one.
• If in a classroom, you don't have to tolerate annoying talking, snide comments, or other disruptive behavior. Inform the instructor at the first opportunity and let him deal with the offender(s) on the spot.
• The doors should be closed and locked to prevent unexpected or unwanted visitors from strolling in and gawking. Feel free to put on the robe and demand that the intruders leave before you continue. If the instructor knows that, e.g., members of another art class might be stopping by, you should be informed and asked to give your consent for it.
• There should be no cameras in the room. If an artist or student wants a photo of your pose for further work on his/her masterpiece, it's your choice and ONLY your choice. One way to discourage photos is to demand photographic model rates for the pictures, which run two or three times higher than life model rates.
• Your working conditions are taxing enough without putting up with unnecessary hardships. The room temperature might be okay for clothed artists, but you're the one who is nude. If it's too cold, request a portable electric heater to take the chill off. Similarly, if it's too hot under the lights, a fan would make the session more comfortable. Do remember that fans will play havoc with drapery.
• Be aware that the model has no right to the works of the artists, nor any say about what will be done with them. If you particularly like one drawing, discuss it with the artist. Also, if your image appears in a public venue such as an art gallery or show, or on an art website, that is the artist's right.
The exception to that rule is when the model is easily identified in the drawings, and the artist intends to sell them, display them, use them in promotions or otherwise publish them. This brings up the subject of model releases. Here's a good explanation of their purpose.
It's good for models to know what a model release is, but life art classes and open studios typically will not need them. The models depicted in the drawings or paintings by students or amateur artists are unlikely to be recognizable.
On the other hand, models should have permission to use copies of the works in their portfolios, with the artists' names. It's the proverbial "one hand washes the other" scenario. Both parties will benefit.
• It is unfortunately not as rare as one would suppose that a group unexpectedly asks a model to assume poses that he or she would feel very uncomfortable doing, especially if they are suggestive, erotic or smutty. Experienced models don't play that game. OTOH, a newcomer to modeling might be deemed (and might possibly be) susceptible to untoward suggestions, requests or demands.
If you are faced with that situation, the decision is ultimately yours, but there is the possibility that compliance could adversely impact future gigs for reputable classes or groups, should the word get out. It is strongly recommended that you decline and calmly, politely tell the leader why you object. If you receive no understanding or support, get dressed, ask for your pay, and leave with no intention of returning.
• The First Rule of Life Modeling: you are doing something that 99% of the people who attend figure drawing sessions, and at least 99.99% of the total population, have never done and would never have the guts to do. Life models are a very rare breed.
Therefore, expect respect. Without their models, the artists or students have nothing to draw, no muse to inspire them. Any drawing group or class worth modeling for will give you that respect. If you don't get it, write off the class or group and move on.
There are other considerations that affect life models, but the above are the principal rules of the road, judging by how often they are repeated.
The book shown on the left is a must-have addition to the library of anyone who wants an excellent introduction to the world of life-modeling. Its author, Andrew Cahner, is a professional life model, and his handbook is a storehouse of information, suggestions, recommendations and just good stuff to know. By the time the newcomer to modeling has finished reading it, he or she will be much more prepared to enter the world of figure modeling than the novice who starts out with no preparation.
Click the image to be taken to the Amazon page for the book. The page also includes links to many other books for the aspiring life model. This link goes to the author's website.
For prospective models looking for examples of poses actually used in figure drawing classes and studios, The Figure forum on the Wet Canvas website is an invaluable "catalog" of poses, with artists posting their drawings, paintings and occasional sculptures of models in live sessions. At this writing there are 653 pages of threads in the forum. The threads/posts with nude subjects are indicated by an orange "butt" icon to the left. It's not an absolute gauge of content, but it is generally accurate.
As would be expected, the majority of drawings are of female models, since they are the dominant force in life modeling. However, there are more than enough images of male models of a wide variety of age and body type to give a good overview of the poses that "work".
Another site that has a large database of poses is deviantART. It's a huge site, with thousands of life drawings. However, most of the drawings of nudes are considered adult, and are blocked by a "Mature Content Filter". One must be logged in to turn the filter off and view them. Signing up is free. The use of the site involves a bit of a learning curve, but once its peculiarities are mastered, it's a non-issue.
The site has a very good search function to narrow one's choice of images. E.g., searching for male figure drawing provides a narrow subset of the nude images. When the page of thumbnails opens, the best approach is to right-click the image and select "Open in new tab" or whatever your browser's equivalent is. Opening it in the same tab will typically screw up the index page.
Google Image Search with Safe Search turned off also finds thousands of images, but be aware that searching for nudes will often turn up porn pics amongst the desired ones. Narrowing it via specific word combinations can reduce the trash, and using quotes such as "figure drawing model" further limits the "hits". Experiment to see what works best for your needs.
Google update 20130311: Google has decided to protect the morals and sensitivites of its users. It is now impossible to disable Safe Search on Google. However, that nanny mentality is easily bypassed. Switch over to Bing, where the users are treated as adults.
Google update 20141019: Apparently Google received enough negative reaction to that nanny policy that it went back to the original "let the user decide" approach. Thanks, guys!
Google update 20161021: It really isn't worth bothering with Google. One can get the results one wants, but it requires playing games with the search terms. Granted that Google will return more "hits", but Bing is more than adequate.
Here are a few sites for figure models. They are listed purely for reference. Whether they are active or dormant was not determined.
Re ModelMayhem, added 11 July 2012: A warning to models. Caveat emptor.
This site is included as an example of a professional organization for life models. It is listed separately because of its requirement for membership, as follows:
The guild is located in the Washington DC metro area. Although I find no requirement for being a resident of the area, the training program mandate makes it impractical for anyone not in that locale to join it, unless one wants to make the journey for the training. If that's a doable thing, it would be well worth the trip. Contact the Guild for more info.
There are other guilds and organizations for life models. This page on the ArtModelTips site has a worldwide listing of them, including 20 in the USA.
The FMG is one of two in the country — the other is the Bay Area Models Guild in San Francisco — that presently provide training. The BAMG specifically requires residence in the area, so it is off limits to anyone else.
Judging by its "Becoming A Model" page, the BAMG is really not looking for the newcomers to life modeling or for those who are contemplating it. The impression that I got from reading the page is that it is for models who have had some experience on the dais. As an outsider, I don't sense open arms for first-timers.
I would of course welcome any information from the BAMG or its members that would correct that impression. The benefits of being a Guild member are manifold, and it is is highly recommended for active models in the area.
New models would gain much from an introductory modeling session, ergo the dearth of them is counterproductive. How much easier would it be for the models and the artists/classes alike if the models had a card or certificate demonstrating that they had participated in a training program that prepared them to mount the dais with confidence and at least a basic skill level?
But that's for another topic.
A Google/Bing/Yahoo search for "figure model" group will provide a number of listings, both of organizations and individual art/drawing groups; "figure drawing" group seems to be the best way to get listings of possible job opportunities.
General note: using quotes in search engine requests limits the results to pages where the exact phrase within the quotes is found. It avoids a gazillion unrelated "hits" when a specific phrase is desired.
Adding one's city or county and state (US) to the search will provide results in or near one's home location. Promising groups 3000 miles away aren't very useful.
Another possible resource for work is Craigslist. The link takes you to the location page, where you can choose your city or the nearest one to you. Once the page for your choice is open, scroll to the bottom and look for "gigs", and click "creative" in the list. This will open a list of any opportunities that have been posted. Don't expect a lot of them. Depending on your area, you might not find a modeling opening for weeks or even months. However, it's worth bookmarking the page. Who knows?
Note that one can subscribe to the RSS (Rich Site Summary) "feed" for that page, which will update your reader whenever changes are made. Modern browsers include that capability.
Added 20131106: Here is another excellent site for new or potential models. It was cited above, but deserves a separate mention. Even if the rest of the website were not a treasure chest of Good Stuff, the numerous links to modeling-related sites would make it an invaluable addition to one's bookmarks.
Here's a new website for beginning artists and for those interested in the arts.
After all, without artists, models have no purpose, n'est-ce pas? If one has a yearning for becoming an artist, there's no better place to start than at the beginning.
One way to prepare for an adventure into life modeling is to sit in on life drawing sessions, watching the models and learning from their performances. If you make it known that you are there as a prospective model, you may find yourself getting help that you didn't expect. If you are uncomfortable with that, or the group doesn't permit observors, buy a drawing pad and some pencils, charcoal and other implements of paper destruction, and go as a participant. Once you're settled in, mention in passing that you are observing from the perspective of a model in waiting, if the instructor or group leader and the model are okay with it. There should be no objection to that.
Lastly, although there is no Famous Life Modeling School, if there is a group or organization near you that offers training sessions for prospective models, avail yourself of it. It won't be arduous and extensive, but it will give you an understanding of what goes on in the studio or classroom, and it will provide an opportunity to mount the dais and do a few poses.
The gist of this page is that if you are professional, friendly, outgoing and cooperative, and you give the artists or students a challenging, enjoyable session, you'll most likely be invited back. You might also find yourself being recommended to other classes or groups.
© 2012 RP Renaud -- all rights reserved